Nihaan Bhat's mother, Kulgam
Nihaan Bhat's mother, Jasmeena Banu, wailing in a gathering of women mourners at her home in Mouchu village of South Kashmir's Kulgam district on 26 June 2020. Photograph by Anis Wani for The Kashmir Walla

In the morning, four-year-old Nihaan Bhat was playing in the lawn, where by afternoon, dozens of women from the village had surrounded his mother Jasmeena Banu as she wailed. Ms. Banu’s two daughters sat next to her, weeping, as she cried: “Oh my beloved, you would say that hands have to be washed several times a day.”

Nihaan was killed inside the parked car in south Kashmir’s Bijbehara when militants fired at personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) deployed nearby, killing one trooper. In the crossfire, a bullet had hit Nihaan who was alone in the car when his uncle had stepped into a shop. 

A police spokesperson, in a statement, said that “preliminary investigation revealed that terrorists fired upon the CRPF party, resulting in injuries to a CRPF personnel and a minor boy. Both the injured were shifted to nearby hospital for treatment where they succumbed to their injuries.”

Nihaan’s two older sisters, a student of standard seventh and eleventh, wailed with Ms. Banu as she recalled moments from her son’s short life. A mourner attempted to console her and wipe tears off her face with a scarf but Ms. Banu was inconsolable. 

“Look how many guests have come, oh my beloved!” Ms. Banu continued to wail, as another woman stood up and pleaded with her to be patient. Instead, she shut her eyes, fell into the arms of the woman supporting her back. “One day we had bought mutton, when a guest had come, he [Nihaan] brought the mutton in the room. I told him this is uncooked, keep it back. He was so loving.”

“He was hungry, so we stopped on the road” 

Sitting in a corner of a room of his home in the Yaripora area of south Kashmir’s Kulgam district, 46-year-old Mohammad Yaseen Bhat, Nihaan’s father, was inconsolable too. Holding a handkerchief in his left hand to wipe off tears, visiting men shook Mr. Bhat’s hand and asked him to be patient in his hour of grief.

“I had to do some official work in Bijbehara and my son pleaded that he also wants to come along,” said Mr. Bhat. “My brother-in-law and I took my boy along; he was sitting in the front passenger seat.”

On reaching Bijbehara, Nihaan had told them that he was feeling hungry and wanted to lean back his seat. “I told my brother-in-law to wait and get him something to eat while I finish my work at the office,” said Mr. Bhat; and he had left. The car was parked on the road while Nihaan’s uncle went to make a purchase at a shop.

Meanwhile militants attacked the CRPF personnel deployed on the road, and everyone, including Mr. Bhat, could hear a massive gunfire. As per Mr. Bhat, when his brother-in-law had ran towards the car instantly, he found Nihaan leaning on the window and presumed that the boy had fallen asleep. “He tried to wake him up and as he touched his body, he could see blood oozing out from the right side of his chest,” added Mr. Bhat.

Mr. Bhat received a call from his brother-in-law, asking to reach the hospital as Nihaan had got injured.“I arrived at the hospital but my son was dead,” said Mr. Bhat.

No one at the house could categorically say whose bullet hit Nihaan but Mr. Bhat accused that his son was targeted in the gunfire. “Why would only one bullet be fired at the car? If it was sudden gunfire, there would have been several bullets. He was hit in the chest and the seat also has the mark of the bullet,” he said. 

Blessed by the saints

Nihaan Bhat's father at his home
Mohammad Yaseen Bhat, Nihaan’s father, shows his son’s photos on his mobile phone at his home. Photograph by Fahad Shah for The Kashmir Walla

Ms. Banu is an employee at a local hospital while Mr. Bhat works as a physical education teacher in the government’s education department. For more than a decade, the couple tied holy knots at various shrines, including one at the shrine of Sheikh Noorud Din Noorani in Kulgam’s Damhal Hanjipora—at least 30 kilometres from their home—for another child. 

Nihaan was born to the couple in October 2015, in a pregnancy complicated due to an imbalance in Ms. Banu’s blood pressure. From the day of the birth until six weeks, Ms. Banu couldn’t see the new-born. “Doctors had said that she won’t survive,” said a relative, who was leaving from the gathering. “Her blood pressure was really bad and it had caused complications in her pregnancy. But her son survived and they [couple] had him as a gift after years of waiting and praying.”

One of Nihaan’s cousin brothers, who lives in the next house, had asked him in the morning where he was going. “He told me that he wants to wear new clothes and go on duty with his father,” said the cousin, Gowhar Bhat. “I had just seen him playing here in the garden.” 

The lawn, where little Nihaan grew up playing, now hosted his funeral as mourners lamented an untimely death. Before his body was covered in a small piece of white cloth, he was kept on a hospital bed, covered with a red and pink blanket while his relatives shouted slogans in favour of Kashmir’s “freedom”.

Inside the house, as more men entered the room, looking for Mr. Bhat to pay their condolences, he showed photographs of Nihaan on his mobile phone; where his son was offering prayers; in another one, Nihaan, wearing a red t-shirt, looks over his right shoulder. “This photo is from today morning before we left,” said Mr. Bhat, as he continued flipping through his phone gallery, with moist eyes.

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